Tag Archives: family

Still the Slowcoach

I was born plump and nothing’s really changed in that department since then. But, because I was plump, and because I was more inclined as a child to bury myself in a book than to busy myself with sports, I was largely terrible at all sorts of games. When the class was told to split up into two teams and captains were chosen and the captains took turns to pick the people they wanted on their teams, I was the last man standing, the one nobody wanted. When you’re ten years old, plump, shy, and wearing glasses, that sucks.

Maybe one of the reasons I never wanted to have a party on my birthday as a child was just that: there would be running games and I would be horribly embarrassed. One year, we did have a party on my birthday. We were in the house in Chandigarh, the big house with the big garden described in this old post. I have photographs of that party, and I’m wearing a thick new jacket my parents had gifted me, which I loved. We played Pass the Parcel, which was ok because you didn’t have to run. Then we played Catch, followed by Vish-Amrit. That was such an ordeal that I can still recall it distinctly.

I don’t know whether I couldn’t run because I was plump, or whether it was more complicated than that. Maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t run because I thought I was fat and everybody laughed at me because I couldn’t run. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t thought I was fat (even though I was). But kids – even eight-nine year old kids – are complicated and so for some simple and complicated reasons, I couldn’t run.

When I say I “couldn’t” run, I mean, I tried, of course. My legs moved as fast as they could, but the rest of my body didn’t get anywhere. Sometimes we played the version of catch where the den hopped one-legged, while everyone else ran around on both legs. This was the most humiliating thing ever, because the one-legged den would catch me without even making the slightest effort; and then it would be my turn to be den and everyone would get bored waiting for me to catch someone. Sometimes, they took pity on me and just let me give up. Sometimes they let me chase on both legs – but even then, someone would have to get bored and let themselves be caught or I’d just never catch anyone. The girls who were really fast even on one leg would scorn catching me altogether, and would take pride in going after the faster kids. It was horrible.

So of course I didn’t want to be subject to this humiliation, especially not on my birthday!

The only sport I was ever any good at in school was throwball, which didn’t involve any running. But that only lasted as long as I remained one of the taller girls in class. When everyone else overtook me in height, suddenly I wasn’t so popular on the throwball team anymore. But by then I’d found my niche, something I really was good at and which even most of the brainy boys looked up to me (and resented me) for: Maths.

The most excruciating years for being plump and slow, then, were from about 8 till about 15. By then, I managed to lose some of the puppy fat (though, in recent years, it has come bouncing back) and in school the emphasis shifted from being fast to being “fast”. And “fast” was something I discovered even I could be, glasses notwithstanding. So it mattered less and less how terrible I was at sports.

The “plump-and-lazy” gene I was born with has never gone into remission. Though I’ve enjoyed playing tennis the past five years, and before that have periodically enjoyed long, brisk walks, trekking, swimming, and badminton, I still consider myself essentially a plump-and-lazy person. But it has never bothered me… till now.

The twins have recently started talking about “running race”, which, apparently, is all they do in daycare. They’ve also started doing “fighting”. I don’t know if they specifically mentioned “catch” or whether the idea floated up on its own, but one evening Amit set both of them to work catching him. He is of course an alpha athlete and even dodging around furniture and electronics in the small, cluttered living room, the girls hadn’t a prayer of catching him, not even two-against-one. I tried teaching them strategy by getting Mrini to turn in her tracks at crucial moments, instead of both of them running around in circles behind him, but even so, he was much too fast and agile for them.

“Your turn,” said Amit, grinning at me.

Well, when he did it, it looked easy, so I agreed. I didn’t last thirty seconds! I tried again and again, and though I did get a little better at it, I still didn’t last beyond a minute or two. After a bit, Mrini took pity on me and retired from the game, leaving Tara and me one-on-one. By this time, Tara was really good at it. I stood behind one chair and she stood in front of it, bouncing from side to side like a Kabbadi player. She swung her arms and jiggled her body for comic effect, so that I almost died laughing, but she bounced in a professional manner all the same, pinning me to my corner behind the chair. Every time I made a run for it, she caught me right away. I was so proud of both of them – they would never have to struggle the way I did when kids around them wanted to play running games.

It was hysterically good fun and by the end of half an hour, we were all tired and sweaty. But though I laughed and enjoyed just as much as everyone else did, a slight tinge of that old sense of humiliation came back to haunt me. I could hardly believe it – despite the trekking, the tennis, the numerous futile attempts at dieting, was I, at 36, so plump-and-lazy that even a four-year-old girl could catch me in thirty seconds? What was even worse was the next thought: So many years, and nothing’s changed. I still can’t run and I’m still ashamed of it.


The Second Party

So if you read my previous post, you know that the party I never intended to have, made itself happen on Wednesday, the day of the kids’ birthday. I suppose it’s only appropriate that the party that was supposed to happen on Saturday fizzled out.

Actually, I think we all ran out of steam ourselves by the time Saturday dawned. The kids were pleased in a puzzled way that they should be having another party, when their birthday was clearly already over. Amit and I were feeling kind of lazy about getting the party infrastructure going, so it was 12.45 before Amit left home, ostensibly to shop for party essentials, but in reality, to run various errands such as going to the bank, the post-office, and doing the weekly grocery shopping. Meanwhile I got the cakes done without much effort, and the kids helped me to beat up a delicious mayonnaise for sandwiches.

I gave the kids lunch and packed them off for their afternoon nap, waiting for Amit to return so that we could have lunch together. He returned around 3.30, by which time, hunger pangs had got the better of me. But, as he sat down for lunch, I had to dash out. He had refused point blank to pick up return gifts and he had also most unhelpfully forgotten to bring potatoes for the potato cutlets we were supposed to be serving.

By this time, one family had taken a rain check (though it hadn’t rained yet); another emailed to say he was out of town today, but his family would come, wasn’t the party tomorrow; and a third had already informed me a couple of days earlier that they would be unable to make it due to having visitors over that very day. So while we rushed around boiling potatoes and assembling sandwiches, our guest list disintegrated from five families with seven kids, down to two families with only two kids.

In the way that these things usually turn out, this was good. We had S&S and V&V over, and we fried up a ton of french fries. The potato cutlets were disastrous and the sandwiches were roundly ignored. Cake was cut and eaten only after one round of vodka and orange juice had been downed. We sang the birthday song, but nobody took photographs, far less a video. The kids ran amok, which was as it should be too. Around 9.30, we ordered in biryani and even Mrini managed to stay up till almost 11 as ten of us crowded around our small 4-seater dining table and dug in with gusto.

In other words, it wasn’t a birthday party, but it was a real fun party. Even the kids slept until 8.30 the next morning!

And now they are four.

Leave Education to the Schools

It’s all very well when you don’t have kids and you think: “Oh, when I have kids, I’ll teach them this and I’ll show them that, and I’ll share the other with them, and I’ll always do this and (especially) I’ll never do that,” and so on.

When the kids are there growing up in front of your eyes, you really have to pin down and put in words practically your entire belief system – and that’s not so easy.

One thing I’ve realized I do believe – if for no other reason than out of sheer laziness – is that it’s best to leave teaching to the schools. I’m a lousy teacher anyway. They, hopefully, know what they’re doing.

My mother was probably a good teacher. At least, I hope she was, because she taught tiny tots in school for a while. She likes to talk about her unconventional – for that time – approach to teaching. I remember her sitting with me while I painstakingly learnt to read. As one of the most impatient people I have ever known, the thing that stands out most is her patience while I struggled to piece the words together. (According to her, I was mildly dyslexic.) The other thing that stands out now, in retrospect, is that she didn’t try to teach me to read; she just sat there and let me learn it on my own.

Once I’d mastered reading, I don’t remember my mother ever working with me on any school-related task – from homework through projects, and, later on, even to issues with teachers or other students. She never glanced at my homework to see whether I had done it or even to know what it was that I had to do. She never tutored me for tests and exams and she never questioned me on the outcome. She never even told me to go study. But somehow I knew that I must do the work I was given to do, in the time I was given to do it, and I must do it myself, without help from parents, sister, or classmates. I knew that if I had questions, I should ask the teachers and no-one else (and from that I eventually learned that most teachers didn’t like to be questioned and often, especially in higher classes, didn’t actually have the answers.) I learned to be disciplined and conscientious and independent, qualities I now – strangely enough – value highly.

But how did this approach help me? Did it help me excel in school, or in life? Not really.

In school, I was a good student. I was not great; I was never top of the class; I was not even good enough to get a seat in an engineering college – or at least, the only engineering college I did get into was the one my parents didn’t want to send me to (Thapar, in Patiala); and I wound up doing English Honours (which was probably really the best choice for me anyway)… So I was not a great student, but whatever I did, I did well enough.

But is “well enough” good enough? Is, for instance, English Honours good enough?

Now the question is, of course, what do you want for your children. For some people, it might be a difficult question to answer. They might be torn between “doctor” “engineer” and (hopefully) “artist” (either creative or performing). For me, the answer is none of those. I don’t care whether they become doctors or engineers; writers or violinists; Wimbledon finalists or movie stars. I don’t care whether they ever achieve greatness in any field or not. I don’t care whether they have a job and a career or they are destined to penury as struggling artists or activists. I don’t even, really, care whether they make themselves rich or not. What I want for them is something more difficult to define. I want them to be balanced, determined, confident, secure, and independent people. I want them to have the foundations for strength, peace, and contentment. I want them to have integrity, at every level. I want them to be able to take on the world without blinking.

I want them to be people I can look up to in respect, even in awe – not for what they might achieve, but simply for who they are.

How am I going to help make them that way? I have no idea – but certainly not by helping them to learn whatever their school wants them to learn. Not by holding their hands to teach them to write. Not by pinning them to a study table while they struggle with numbers and letters. Not by pushing them to learn faster or better than others in their class or school or neighborhood. But maybe, just maybe, by letting them be whatever they want to be.

When they went on stage a few weeks ago, I was so proud of both of them. Mrini, for obvious reasons – she was unfazed by the lights, the sound, the audience, the strangeness of everything, and she stood in her place and did her part and enjoyed it. She can hardly wait to get back on stage. (I probably should get her into a music and/or dance class soon – she so loves to sing!) She had courage and elan. But Tara – Tara was bewildered by the set-up. The too-loud music troubled her. So she covered both her ears with her hands and just stood there, looking bemused. She didn’t cry. She didn’t run away. She didn’t even look scared; just puzzled. She stood her ground and did what felt right to her and she was not in the least bit embarrassed or upset by her performance. That takes a kind of courage and confidence too.

Academic performance, good or bad, is not going to turn them into the people I want them to be. Excellence at academics will of course give them confidence, but that is a confidence limited to only that sphere, and based on only that success. I want them to have the confidence to go against the flow, to not excel if they choose not to. To take their own time and do their own thing.

And that’s why I’m so happy with the Montessori system and with their school in particular. They let children learn at their own pace, and they have confidence in kids’ ability to learn (as much as in their own ability to teach). At the end of last year, their teacher said, “Well, they should know the number symbols from zero to nine by now, but they haven’t completely got it yet. You can work with them on it over the summer holidays if you want to. Otherwise don’t worry, we’ll do it when school resumes in June.”

That, exactly, is what I want to hear. I want to know where they stand, what they need to work on, and I want to know that there is absolutely no need for me to “work” on it with them. I did talk and play with numbers a bit with them during the holidays, but I didn’t “work” on it. And they seem to have got it now anyway. Ok, they are a couple of months late. Should I be worried? I don’t think so.

I have little enough time with my girls as it is. What time I do have, I want to spend enjoying them. I want to watch them play, and talk to them and engage them in all the things they don’t learn in school – making cake, listening to music (as opposed to nursery rhymes), watching (and playing) tennis, telling stories… And in all of this, if I can somehow impart to them some bits of my desired philosophy, my preferred outlook on life, so much the better.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s all very well to say this now, when they are not yet four years old and they don’t have tests and exams to pass. Can I stand by this when they are 8, 10, 14 years old and studies become more challenging and the rat race becomes more competitive? I don’t know – but I intend to try. And if their school means to continue along the path it has started out on, I imagine I might have some chance of success.

So here’s my plan: as school continues and they learn to read and write and then go on to arithemtic, geography, history and all that other stuff, I’m not going to be studying with them. I won’t “go over” what they’ve learnt in school each day or each week. I won’t be checking that they’ve done their homework or studied for a test. And I’m not going to stop them if they want to spend their time playing games instead of working. I spent the day before my Xth Standard English Board exam reading Tolkein (which was, sadly, not part of the curriculum) and my parents weren’t in the least bit perturbed by that. They trusted that I’d done my work for the exam – and I want to pass on that trust to my daughters, starting, oh say, a year or so ago. If they don’t do well academically, that’s ok – in the long run, they will learn that they are responsible for their own lives and that is a lesson well worth learning.

Some day, in their own way, they will take on the world. And I’ll watch from the audience and say with pride, “that’s my girl!”

For me, that’s good enough.

Back to School

We’ve been reminding the kids for a week or so that school would be re-opening soon. We took them out clothes shopping and school-bag shopping. All weekend, we talked about going back to school on Monday. And at last today we did it. Tara gulped down her breakfast, while Mrini dawdled over it, but as soon as I’d brushed their teeth, they rushed to put on their new clothes. Mrini is into Winnie-the-Pooh t-shirts and Tara is into Mickey Mouse. Mrini chose a pair of blue denim shorts and a white t-shirt, while Tara went for yellow pants rolled up at the bottom and a bright red t-shirt. They grabbed their new school bags and stuffed in their snack boxes and water bottles. They both agreed to two ponytails in their hair, and enthusiastically posed for photos.

Despite all of which, we got out of the house a good half hour earlier than we had been doing during the summer holidays, encountered as little traffic as could be hoped for, and they were (as usual) the first kids in their class to reach school. They are in a new classroom this year, but have the same teachers and most of the same classmates, apart from a handful of new admissions who haven’t actually joined yet. Predictably, both of them were shy when we actually reached their new classroom, but it took only a couple of minutes for them to relax enough to enter the room. After that, they kissed us and pushed us firmly away, waving happily. It makes me so proud when they do that – I’m so glad that they’re confident and secure enough to send us away smiling, even after a 10-week break and with a new classroom to boot. It must be so difficult for parents whose kids cry and fuss and don’t want to go to school.

Their teacher told us that school had already been open a week for older kids, and the bus/van services were fully operational. I’d planned to go and check that the girls get on the van today, but after speaking to their teacher in person and the van driver over the phone, I’m going to take a chance on it. I will go to daycare at lunchtime, to ensure that they reach as expected (and to drop off their lunch). And if that part of the day goes according to plan, then it’s official. The kids are back at school, and they’re not “babies” any more – they’re “second-years” now. They really are growing up!


We’ve been to Devbagh a few times already, so we knew exactly what to expect on this trip… or so we thought. You know it’s never that simple, right?

We reached the bus stop with about 5 minutes to spare. By our standards, that’s about 20 minutes late. It was past the kids’ bedtime and the commute to the bus stop had involved auto-hopping interspersed with short(ish) walks, so the kids were end-tethered by the time we reached. (By the way, I hadn’t realized that autos in Bangalore had become so completely unusable. It’s not like they go where you want them to; it’s more like a bus – if it’s going in roughly the direction you want, you hop on; then you reach the farthest common point and get off and look for another fellow willing to go in roughly the direction you want. And as for charging by the meter – forget it!  Arrrrrrrrgh! Thank god I very rarely have to use a $&%(*#@$ auto nowadays.)

The bus was supposed to start at 9 p.m., so obviously it got rolling only around 10. Meanwhile I took two grumpy girls to the toilet (in the bus operator’s office, thankfully; the option was, of course, by the side of the road) and tried my best to get them to sleep. It’s been an extremely long time since either of us (adults) went by sleeper bus and we’d seriously overestimated the size of the berths. Each berth is so narrow that only a reasonable sized person can fit and then only if they lie ramrod straight without bending limb or hair. And two adults would have to lie so close together on adjacent berths that being side-by-side with anyone other than your normal sleeping partner would be unthinkable! I’d thought that since we had two berths side-by-side, all four of us would squeeze in somehow, but I was wrong. Amit could have occupied a double berth on his own and still all his appendages would have been squashed into strange shapes and places; and the kids and I would have been approximately comfortable with a double berth to ourselves. In other words, we had to make do with exactly half the minimum space we really needed. We made do – I and the girls put our heads on the plastic “pillows,”, while Amit turned himself upside down and put his head where my feet were. This way, he had to contend with my smelly feet in his face, while I had to struggle to snake my legs through a tangle of kids’ limbs and straps from the camera bag that lay at the foot of my allocated space, and then try to avoid kicking him in the face. The girls’ feet were also ideally poised to kick him… where it hurts the most… but that’s the price of being a father anyway.

Kids, mercifully, can sleep through anything, so at least they got a good night’s sleep. Amit stuck his endless legs out of the berth and rested them on something that covered either the engine (rear-mounted; we were right at the back of the bus) or the air-con unit of the bus – it was hot like an oven! Mrini sweated with her head next to this box, while Tara and I curled up under the sheet with the air-con blasting on top of us.

In short, it was “interesting”.

It became more interesting as the drive progressed. At some point at night, we started on the ghats section of the drive. As the driver threw his vehicle around every curve, we fishtailed around in the back like flies on the tail of some really angry whale. By 6 a.m. we were all awake. The ghats were lush and green outside the window, but inside, Tara was the first to feel the effects of the drive. Empty-stomach as we were, the effects were limited, but she was a sorry sight all the same. Thankfully, we stopped for breakfast soon after. None of us ate, but we used the toilet “facilities” (5 bucks a go and nothing to show for it!). Soon after we got back in the bus, despite my efforts at distracting them with a story, Tara was back to feeling sick. Much to my surprise, I ended up retching as well! This never happens to me! Mrini was fine until the last ten minutes of the drive – then we were greeted with the spectacle of both girls retching simultaneously into the same plastic bag! Not the prettiest of sights…

And in all this, Amit, the one who can be counted on to be sick in any sort of long drive, was completely unaffected!

Once we got off the bus, things were better. We all had a hearty breakfast (though at first the sight of food still made Tara sick, but she recovered soon enough) at the usual place. I was a little worried about the impact the impending boat ride would have on our nicely-fed bellies, but the good thing about boats of this type is that you can be sick over the side and nobody has to clean up! (And what is a little puke compared to the vast quantities of oil (and waste) that we humans regularly pump into the sea?)

Amit went to locate the JLR office – it was in a slightly different location than it had been on our last few times. He found out that the houseboat would only arrive at 11.30. I had, as usual, been quite irresponsible while doing the booking and had completely ignored the need for vital information, happy with my own assumptions about what the houseboat would be like. We went back to the office after breakfast and found out a little more about the houseboat. It would collect us at 11.30 and take us 25 km out to sea. The next day it would bring us back. Not quite what I’d expected – I’d expected something moored a stone’s throw offshore, so that we could come and go as we pleased. I’d thought we’d linger on the beach during the day, have our meals in the Gol Ghar (in this instance, it refers to their dining room) and retire to the houseboat for the night. Being stuck on it for 24 hours 25 km out at sea with 2 little kids and nothing to do suddenly didn’t look like such a good idea. When they offered to swap our houseboat reservation for a cottage on the island, we jumped at it. What – give the kids an opportunity to drown themselves in the sea or cover themselves in sand? Sand, obviously. As long as they can get themselves dirty, kids are happy! And on the beach, at least we don’t have to worry about them falling into the sea!

And so, around 10.30, after an uneventful 20-minute crossing by a small motorboat, we were on the island, walking through the pine trees to the cottages.

Wait – pine trees? Here? I’ve always wondered about this – the trees do look like conifers, they come complete with thousands of needles, peeling bark, and tiny, really minuscule pine cones. So they must be pine trees, even though I always thought pine trees were to be found only in high latitudes or altitudes. They lend a very soft and romantic atmosphere to the island, providing plenty of shade, with sunlight filtering through, the ground covered in a thick layer of dry, brown needles, yet never the dense suffocation of thick, dark, heavy trees and a lot of undergrowth.
One-and-a-half days passed pleasantly enough. The kids, on Mrini’s suggestion, had brought their sand toys. (She heard “beach” and I asked Amit what toys we should carry for them, and she had the answer. How she even knew, considering the last time she saw a beach was Lakshadweep a year-and-a-half ago, I don’t know, but she had absolutely the right idea.) They spent ages cooking up stuff with sand, pine needles, and sand toy utensils, and getting themselves – and, by extension, us – covered in sand in the process. Then they upturned some moulded plastic beach beds and used them as slides. We downed a bottle of beer. Everyone retired to the air-conditioned comfort of the cottage for the afternoon, and in the evening, we went out on to the beach again, to entice the kids into the water. Mrini was game for a bit of experimenting, though she ran away whenever the water touched her feet; Tara (typically?) watched from a safe distance, with a skeptical expression, and reverted to playing in the sand. Amit and I took turns in the water for about 15 minutes each. By this time it was almost 7, so I decided to walk back to the cottage with the kids and get the three of us cleaned up, leaving Amit to enjoy the water for a few minutes longer.

Excellent plan, but for the dog.

Last time we were at Devbagh, there were no dogs. But then, there were no houseboats either. Given that houseboats have been on offer for three years, or so we were told, it must have been more than three years since our last visit. Time enough for the dogs to arrive.

I’d walked a fair distance towards the cottage when I heard Amit shouting. I turned around just in time to see a dog grab his clothes from the beach towel and make off at top speed. I dropped everything and gave chase – but running across a sandy beach clad in a wet swimsuit is not really my thing. Actually, let me be honest – running is not my thing; the rest of it is very ok. Anyway, the dog, encouraged by his pack of friends and allies, made straight for the woods and was gone long before I got within anything more than shouting distance.

It was Amit’s turn. Like a cross between Venus rising from the sea and a dripping wet Tarzan the Ape Man, he followed the dog into the trees at an impressive sprint. He had kept a very precious mobile phone in the pocket of his shorts; losing it was not an option.

Luckily, the dog had only made off with his T-shirt. True, it was a Nike T-shirt, but it was one Roger (Federer, must I add?) had sported a couple of years ago, so it was definitely time for an upgrade to the current season’s look. And at any rate, the mobile phone was safe.

The next day passed in an equally relaxed way, though we had to vacate our comfy cottage in exchange for a tattered tent with no attached toilet. We’d reserved the cottage for one night, and the second half day package included lunch, a tent, and a common toilet. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad. The beach was just as good. We went for a long walk in the morning before breakfast. The tide was out, so there was an immense flat area that had been underwater but now was only slightly wet. We went out onto the large, flat area and watched fishermen extract fish from their nets before casting the nets in the water and pulling them out again. Mrini and Tara were brave enough to pick up a couple of fishes by the tail – which was more than I could do!

By the time we started to walk back, the water had crept in behind us, and we had to wade in upto mid-thigh level to reach the beach. It was mid-stomach level for the kids. Tara was a little worried by it, but Mrini walked through it happily, holding Amit’s hand and asking for more!

After breakfast, Amit went for a full-body massage, while I kept an eye on the kids. After another bottle of beer was finished, I washed the kids’ hair under an open, outdoor shower. They had their swimsuits on, so it was quite decent and well worth a video. It was the first time ever that they actually enjoyed a shower.

Around 5 p.m., we took the boat back to mainland and then shared an auto for the short ride down the highway to Karwar town. This was when things started to get really interesting.

First, it turned out that our bus back to Bangalore started back not at 8 pm. as I’d been led to expect by the information on the website, but at 10 p.m. So now being 6 p.m., we had a whole four hours to kill, with two little kids in tow. Somewhat to Amit’s disappointment, I insisted that we find a room. Keeping the girls up that much past their bedtime just didn’t seem like a good idea to me. So we found a crummy room with a fan that gave no air, a grainy TV, grimy walls, and clean but torn bedsheets, where we camped for the rest of the evening. The kids jumped on the beds, we browsed TV, we all went out for an early dinner, and then the kids fell asleep, we read, and outside the half-open window, a deluge started.

It was still raining when we left the room at 9.40. Amit waited to get some refund from reception, while I went on ahead (with some vague idea of holding the bus, should it show any inclination to make a timely start). We got wet, the sleeping kids got wet, and, in the pitch darkness, we kind of lost our way. Luckily, though, Amit caught up with me, because I was beginning to feel jittery out there in the dark on my own – Karwar is the kind of town that is shut up tight by 9 p.m.

It was 10.00 p.m. Amit called the bus shop – the bus would leave in 5 minutes. “Yes, ok, hold on, we’re on our way,” said Amit, being desperately polite, “by the way, just where exactly did you say the bus would be?”

A couple of minutes later, we saw it. With a mixture of rain and sweat pouring down us, we climbed on board to find…

…that our seats were…


Very firmly occupied, by a fat old couple who claimed to be senior citizens incapable of sleeping on the upper bunk.

It took half an hour and a good deal of screaming on my part to get the situation sorted out. The fat old couple remained as firmly seated as though they’d grown roots, so an unfortunate young couple were unceremoniously evicted from their berths and moved to an upper berth, so that we could get a lower berth. At last, frustrated, steaming, sweating, swearing, and trying to soothe two sleepy children we crammed ourselves into our double berth and the bus started rolling.

The bus was supposed to reach Bangalore by 8 a.m. – but the two hour delay in its starting time, the half hour hiatus as we fought for our seats, and the inevitable puncture stop along with the tyre-repair stop combined to ensure that at 8 a.m. we were not anywhere close to Bangalore. For the next three hours, we sat and counted the minutes and fretted and sweated as we crawled into the city and then crawled through the traffic around Yeshwanthpur and all the way to Windsor Manor.

We were both worried because it was 11 a.m. on a Monday morning and we had lots and lots of WORK to do! And now that we were so extremely late, we still had the onerous tasks of getting the kids ready for daycare, getting some lunch organized for them, getting ourselves cleaned up, and somehow getting to office, before lunch if possible. In the end, I managed it all and even managed to send out the documents in time for the end-of-day release… but I would have been happier with those three hours in hand.

And the kids? Were wonderful! They sat five long hours in the sleeper bus after they woke up. They talked, they sang, they got bored, sucked their thumbs and threatened to fall asleep, demanded food and demanded water, but… they didn’t fuss at all. No whining no fighting no driving us up the window (there wasn’t a wall). When they got home, they straightaway got to “work” with their toys, and, apart from occasionally fingering my laptop, didn’t cause any trouble at all. I dropped them at daycare at 1 p.m. and their teacher there said they ate and slept without any fuss and she’d never have guessed there had been anything different (tiring!) about their day.

I know I’m a disgustingly proud mama, but honestly, tell me: aren’t they just the bestest?

That’s My Girl!

I’d promised the girls that when they got up on stage and sang and danced, I’d clap long and loud and shout “that’s my girl!”

And I did! Loud enough to have a hoarse voice afterwards.

I think I was about as excited about the show as the kids were – or maybe a little more – when I went to their daycare to pick them up. Their daycare aunties were, of course, doing  careful job of getting them dressed, busy with needle and thread as they tucked in bits of the rented costume. The costume was white sleeveless Chinese collar shirts with silvery spangles on them, and a dark blue plastic skirt. Why plastic? I have no idea. At least the clothes were not intolerably uncomfortable. Mrini did complain that her Chinese collar was itching her, but a few bars of her favourite Double Double Fun Fun soon distracted her.

We were supposed to reach the venue, Chowdaiah, at 4 p.m. We reached at 4.10, which was pretty good going. As we reached the registration tables set up near the entrance, the girls grabbed my hands tightly and wouldn’t let go. Their summer camp aunties were waiting to escort them backstage, but they behaved like they were being kidnapped by aliens. The rule was that no parents were allowed backstage, so I tried to persuade them to let go, but they were quite resistant to the idea. Luckily, their summer camp aunties didn’t insist and a few minutes later, as other kids from their batch turned up, they grew brave enough to go along with them, albeit with many an anxious look cast in my direction.

From about 4.20 till about 5.30, I hung around outdoors, watching other parents arriving with sleepy, grumpy kids. Then I realized that there were enough parents still with their kids that it should be ok for me to go and take a look at the girls. So I entered the building from one of the side doors and went towards the green room. I expected at every step to be stopped and turned away, but strangely enough, I wasn’t. I’m normally a very rule-abiding person who is very hesitant to go into areas that are declared to be out of bounds, so it was quite out of character for me to just walk all the way around backstage without blinking.

I looked into the two green rooms, but, though both were filled with kids, my girls were nowhere to be seen. I exited the backstage area from the door at the other end, and then I found them, sitting on the steps just outside the stage door. With them was summer camp Aunty1, a huge quivering mass of indignation and irritation. I’d never met her, as the summer camp took place in the middle of the morning and was seamlessly integrated into their daycare schedule. But I took to her at once.

All around us was chaos. Children from various centres thronged children from other centres. Parents hung around hunting desperately for children, aunties, or the holy grail. Aunty1 tried to keep her brood of 15-odd kids confined to a few designated steps, but had to keep darting off one side or another to grab someone who wanted to escape. There was one young chap and one young woman assigned to Aunty1 when I reached the scene. Within minutes, the young chap was sent off to take one of the boys to the bathroom. By the looks of the young chap’s expression at this task, it was not something he was used to doing. I’m guessing it’s not a particularly fun task to have to take somebody else’s young boy to the bathroom, particularly when it’s somebody you’ve never met before and the more so if it’s not something you’ve ever done before. He was gone a long, long time. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw him again after that.

The young girl was called away elsewhere, so it was just me and Aunty1. I was holding Tara, who was fretful and threatened to be tearful, while observing with interest the volume of steam emanating from Aunty1’s ears. It didn’t require much prodding for her to tell me all. The older kids, Eldies, had been given a ridiculously easy number to do, and the tiny kids, Tinies, had been given a complex number. This allocation was done by the Choreographer. Aunty1 had decided long ago to swap the numbers. The choreographer, for reasons unknown to me, had not swapped the sequence of the music. So, instead of the Tinies going on first, as had been planned, now the Eldies would go on first, then there would be several other numbers from kids from other centres, and only after that would our Tinies be allowed on stage. As if that weren’t bad enough, Aunty1 was infuriated that the Tinies had been made to come at 4 p.m. a whole two-and-a-half hours before showtime. The Eldies had been asked to report a whole hour later, at 5. Where’s the sense in that!?

It took only the slightest encouragement from me for Aunty1 to go dashing off to confront the choreographer. Which left me in charge of an unspecified number of kids, some of whom were beginning to wail. I did my best to restore order by scolding some rowdy boys, separating a girl who was having her hair pulled from another who was doing the pulling, letting Tara sit in my lap, and hugging another girl who was crying. I glimpsed Aunty1 rushing past a few times at something close to the speed of light like and infuriated and unidentified flying object. At last she returned, momentarily, still intent on having words with the Choreographer. She did a quick headcount, realized that only one head was missing (apart from the boy who’d gone to the toilet and still not returned; and the other boy who’d been sent back to his parents in a flood of tears), realized which particular head it was, and departed in frantic search of that head. While she was gone, the missing head was escorted back to our group by some unidentified assistants who were entirely unsure about which group the boy belonged to. A three-year-old in these chaotic circumstances can answer a few questions, but, “Which centre do you belong to?” is not one of them. I asked Mrini and Tara if this boy was their friend, but they said no. I tried out the name I’d heard Aunty1 mutter on the boy and he tearfully nodded, so I let him sit down on our steps, while I waited for Aunty1 to come whizzing around again. She did, and almost collapsed with relief. “I saw his parents and he was not with them,” she said. “How can I ask them if them know where he is? What will they think? I just turned around and ran from there,” she said.

Having ensured that the rest of her charges were present and correct, she left me to it and disappeared again. At last she returned with news of success: Ours would be the very first act. “Don’t we need to get these kids ready then?” I asked, waving at several kids who were not in costume yet. We shepherded the Tinies into the backstage area. Separated from the Eldies (who were left in charge of someone else; but they were more interested in fighting with each other and less interested in wailing for their parents) there were only about 7 kids. One was sobbing inconsolably and had to be sent of with his parents. Another was sobbing inconsolably, but was ok as long as his father was around. The other 5 were ok. We spent a few minutes tying bits and pieces of stuff onto their costumes, then I got them to work with Ringa Ringa Roses. That kept them busy for a precious 5 minutes and it was a sight that was heartwarming beyond words – these six little things, all anxious and strung up, all dressed up in ridiculous stuff, sweetly going around in a circle, falling down, giggling, then getting up and going around again.

Sometime around this stage, one of the organizers, for the first and last time, tried to evict me from backstage. It was the only time someone even realized I was a “parent” and not an “organizer”. In fact, so many people had assumed I was part of the organizers and had asked me so many arbitrary things, that I was even beginning to feel a bit like one of the organizers. At least I knew three of the kids in my charge, which was more than you could say of many organizers. So when this woman tried to shoo me off, I refused to be shooed off. “There are no teachers,” I said. She pointed to various other organizers who were rushing around. “But none of them know these kids,” I said. Then she asked where their teacher was and I had the answer to that too. “She’s gone to the registration desk to check if any of the other kids have turned up yet.” Then I hurried off to disentangle Tara from the boom machinery that she was exploring much too closely.

And so they let me stay.

As the minutes dragged by and the kids got fidgety again, I decided to give them some down time. I gathered the six of them around me and started to tell a story. I had, of course, absolutely no idea what story to tell, nor what language to tell it in. But who cares. I sat them down, and Mrini and Tara, always eager for one of my stories, were instrumental in getting the others to fall in line. And as softly and slowly as possible, I launched on what might well have turned into the story of Peter and the Wolf… but long before the wolf appeared on the scene, they were called into the wings. So I exited backstage left and entered the audience. I found my way to where Amit and S&S were, and five minutes later, after a couple of really short speeches and one solo number by some dancer guy, our girls were on!

The music, unfortunately, was BLASTING! It was loud enough to put a pub to shame. I think somebody forgot to tell some technician fellow that this was a show by little kids, none older than about 6. Naturally, when the kids got on stage, they were a little startled by the whole experience. But they were playing their song – Itsy Bitsy Spider – and their summer camp aunties were there below the stage with their backs to the audience, doing the steps. Three of the kids, including Mrini, followed along beautifully. They were so, so sweet – innocently doing their thing. Then there was Tara – she got on stage, covered both her ears with her hands, and stood there looking worried. The boy next to her looked at her, wondered whether he should be worried too, decided he should, and covered his ears with his hands too. After a moment, he realized that the other kids were dancing, so he took his hands down and began dancing. And Tara stood there, stock still, hands over her ears. It was the cutest thing ever! Towards the very end of their act, she became a little brave and tried to follow along – but before she could really get into it, it was all over.

I rushed backstage to take charge of the kids. They were photographed and then they were allowed to change into their own clothes and return the costumes to Aunty1. Once that was done, we all headed back to the audience to watch the rest of the show. Around 7.30, after the Eldies had done their act (without a hitch) we started to leave. The girls were hungry and thirsty and once I’d given them bananas and water, they wanted to use the toilet, so what with everything it was close to 8 by the time we left and just after 9 by the time we got home. We ordered in Chinese, gave the girls their milk which they demanded vociferously and downed without pausing to pull up their chairs and tables, and then put them to bed without pausing for a bath. It was with great difficulty that we got them to brush their teeth. They were in bed by 9.15, only half an hour or 45 minutes later than usual, but they were really tired. This morning they refused to get out of bed until an hour later than usual.

All in all, it was one hell of an evening. Almost all fun, but thank goodness that I went backstage when I did, or our kids would have wound up wailing like so many others – and maybe some of the other kids would have, too.

On our drive home, I remembered that 30-odd years ago, when my mother used to teach Tinies in a school in Chandigarh, we used to accompany her to Tagore theatre for their Annual Day. I must have been 7-8 years old. I don’t remember the details, and I think their acts were more complicated with scenery and stuff, but I do remember being there. I think there used to be a similar level of chaos. Maybe that explains how I knew where to go, what to expect and what to do. I certainly did have a completely unexpected comfort-level in the situation – one might even say that I quite enjoyed it. Apparently, so did the kids. Today when I went to daycare to pick up Mrini and Tara in the evening, the girl whom I hugged while she was crying yesterday gave me a shy smile. That was really nice.

We did manage, with some difficulty, to track down the fellow who took orders for the delivery of photographs. By the time we did this, just before we left, the fellow had packed up his bag and seated himself in the audience. It was only because the organizers had seen me around all evening that they did everything they could to help us track him down. So hopefully we will be getting a CD of photos and videos of the show some day. Until then, you’ll just have to make do with two-and-a-half thousand words.

So that’s one adventure out of the way. Tomorrow we leave for Devbagh. Overnight bus. Boat. Island. Sea. Houseboat. Plenty more adventures coming up!

Stage Show

It’s a big day for us today: the twins are going to be on stage, for the first time ever.

This show is organized by their daycare/summer camp organizers. It looks like being a big but well-planned event. We’ve received several notices so far telling us what to do. It’s going to be at one of the biggest halls in town. Of course, it is at the other end of town, but what cannot be cured must be endured.

Luckily, it is not the sort of thing that requires me – the hapless mother – to do much. We had to take the kids for an extra “practice” session for an hour on Saturday. Yesterday they were provided their costumes, which I was supposed to take home, try on them, and alter. Fat chance of that! They have to arrive at the venue at 4 p.m. already dressed in their costumes, so that means I have to leave office at 3 (or ideally a little earlier) and pick them up from daycare. I wish daycare had provided transport, but this they haven’t done. So when I pick them up, they should be already dressed in their costumes. Great, because that means that their daycare aunties get to get them dressed and “dolled up” – the notice mentioned something about makeup! I don’t do makeup myself, what will I do for my under-four girls? I hardly just about can manage to tie two almost-symmetrical pony tails on one little head.

What I can do is to take photos, so I’ve got the camera along, the proper, big camera, no mobile phone photos for this event, thank you. Hopefully I’ll get a couple of good shots before they get whisked off by the organizers. Apparently, parents are not required backstage at all. There are going to be 15 daycare centres participating in this show, and each centre might have about 20-odd kids, so that’s 300 kids between 2 and 6 years of age under one roof! And they don’t want parents backstage!?!?! I’m not sure whether that’s a smart call, or plain crazy.

So anyway, I drop them off in charge of their summer camp aunty and then I’m persona non grata until the show starts at 6. I’d love to sit in the audience and watch the “technical” rehearsal. I’d love to see the chaos that 300 kids can cause. I’d love to know how the organizers are going to keep 300 kids in fancy dress in presentable shape for two hours till the show starts and another two hours till it ends. But I’ll probably just get to sit outside and stare at the wall.

The kids are, of course, very ‘interested’ in the whole proceeding. They brought pom-poms home from summer camp one day and provided us one solid hour of fantastic entertainment by dancing and singing and waving them around. If their stage dance is going to be anything like that, it’s going to be a riot.